Labour has reportedly ditched its plans to offer free social care if elected. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership put plans for a National Care Service in its manifestos. Now, Keir Starmer’s alleged plan to abandon it has caused outrage on social media. But the history and detail of the policy is not quite what it seems.
Free social care: not any more
Disability News Service (DNS) broke the story. It reported that shadow leader of the House of Commons Thangam Debbonaire let the policy shift slip during a virtual meeting. Editor of DNS John Pring wrote that:
Debbonaire told female party members at a meeting last weekend that introducing free social care for disabled and older people would “give the Tories a stick to beat Labour with”…
She apparently claimed that such a policy would cost “£100 billion” and would cost more than the annual budget of the NHS.
She also said that right-wing newspapers would attack the policy and that it would lose Labour the next election.
DNS said Labour “failed to deny she had made the comments”. But Labour’s shift in position actually rolls-back more than just Corbyn’s policy. Because the party has been planning a National Care Service since 2010.
Not a new policy
As think tank the Kings Fund wrote, in its 2010 manifesto Labour pledged that:
A new National Care Service will be established, which is intended to ‘remove unfair postcode lotteries’ and ‘protect family homes and savings’ from the costs of care. It is to be established in three stages:
- From 2011 those with the ‘greatest care needs’ will receive free personal care at home
- From 2014 the costs of residential care homes will be capped so that homes and savings will be ‘protected from care charges’ after two years.
- After 2015 a National Care Service will be established, free at the point of use for all adults with an eligible care need, not just older people. A commission will be set up on how to finance this system.
Corbyn then picked this up again in 2017 and 2019.
As a Labour press release said in September 2019:
the next Labour government will:
- Introduce free personal care for all older people, providing help with daily tasks such as getting in and out of bed, bathing and washing, and preparing meals in their own homes and residential care
It also said it would sort out funding for social care and improve care staff’s working conditions and pay. Now, 11 years of policy has gone out of the window. But what exactly has Starmer’s party ditched?
Corbyn: not clear cut
Corbyn’s manifesto on social care was not entirely clear cut. It said that free social care would be for older people. For chronically ill and disabled people, free social care was, the manifesto said, an “ambition”. It was actually during 2020’s Labour leadership election that Starmer said he supported a separate, free social care plan for chronically ill and disabled people. This was something Corbyn had not introduced.
So, not only has Starmer rolled-back years of policy, but he’s trashed a personal commitment he made too. The story also shows that the party has abandoned any notion of creating progressive policies – for fear of being annihilated by the right-wing media. But was Labour’s National Care Service all it’s cracked up to be, anyway?
Social care is already free for the poorest people. The government sets savings and assets thresholds. For example, in England, if you have less than £14,250 in savings or assets (like a home), your social care is totally free. But under successive Tory-led governments, social care has been decimated. In 2018/19, funding was down by £300m in real terms on 2010/11. This is despite demand increasing.
So, the number of people who actually get support when they need it is tiny. As the Kings Fund wrote:
In 2018/19, local authorities received 1.9 million requests for support from new clients. Around 3 in 4 people received some help, though only around a quarter were assessed as eligible for formal short-term or long-term care.
550,000 requests were from working-age adults, of which 98,000 (18 per cent) received formal short-term or long-term care, and 1.4 million requests were from older people, of which 401,000 (29 per cent) received formal short-term or long-term care.
This means that in reality a large portion of social care is carried out by unpaid carers.
The elephant in the room
There are around 13.6 million people in the UK who carry out this role. Moreover, 65% of adults will undertake unpaid caring at some point in their lives. These figures are versus just 1.5 million professional carers working in the sector in 2018. Yet Corbyn’s leadership only pledged to raise the level of social security for unpaid carers by £10 a week. At the time in 2017, it would have taken Carer’s Allowance from £62.70 to £73.10 a week – the same as Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Unpaid carers save the government around £132bn a year in care costs. In that sense, Corbyn’s proposals were hardly radical. So, while Starmer’s ditching of a National Care Service is a damning move, the idea didn’t go far enough anyway. To really address the social care crisis in the UK, we need to start from the bottom, up. The fact that around one in five of all people perform a caring role, unpaid, is the elephant in the room. It’s time the government and society finally dealt with this fact.
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